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A day in Latin New York

Begin with breakfast in the Dominican Republic: cafe con leche and mashed plantains. Have the churrasco - barbecued meat - for lunch at a Brazilian buffet. Later, snack on a Colombian fruit shake, then stop at a Mexican taqueria for dinner. After dark, hit a salsa club.
St. Martin's Press
/ Source: The Associated Press

Begin with breakfast in the Dominican Republic: cafe con leche and mashed plantains. Have the churrasco - barbecued meat - for lunch at a Brazilian buffet. Later, snack on a Colombian fruit shake, then stop at a Mexican taqueria for dinner. After dark, hit a salsa club.

You can take this tour of Latin America all in a day, without ever leaving New York City. A new book called "Nueva York: The Complete Guide to Latino Life in The Five Boroughs" shows you how.

"When we have people coming in from out of town, we don't want to just show them Times Square, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty," said Carolina Gonzalez, who co-authored "Nueva York" with Seth Kugel. "We actually want to show them the real New York, and to us, part of that real New York is all these different great Latin neighborhoods."

New York City is 27 percent Hispanic, according to the 2000 Census, and one of the most heavily Dominican neighborhoods is Washington Heights, in northern Manhattan. At a restaurant here called El Malecon, breakfast for four, with eggs, juices, fried cheese and mangu - mashed plantain - runs about $30, including cafe con leche -  "like a latte at one-tenth the price," said Kugel.

But El Malecon "is really known more than anything for their chickens that you see twisting around in the rotisserie," Kugel added. "You can actually smell them for several blocks around."

Across the street, at La Plaza de las Americas, an outdoor market, look for bargains on yuca, papayas, and avocados. Nearby, Centro Botanico y Esoterico Gran Bua sells perfumes and statuettes to solve any problem. Saleswoman Odette Pichardo says the best-sellers are always love potions - like a fragrance called "Garrapata," which means tick, suggesting its power to latch on. If old-fashioned florals are more your style, bottles of gardenia scent runs just $5.

At Rancho Jubilee, it's not just the food that evokes the Dominican Republic - it's the decor, from the palm trees to the donkey saddles to a little tin stove mounted over the entrance, all imported from the D.R. The wooden chairs crackle when you sit down, to "remind you of sitting on your grandmother's porch in the rural Dominican Republic," said Kugel.

Now head to East Harlem, where Puerto Rican flags fly from many windows. At Carlitos Cafe, Tuesdays are open mic nights. At Casa Latina, shop for Latin music from the 1930s on, or pick up a "Salsaholic" T-shirt.

For art lovers, there's El Museo del Barrio on Fifth Avenue, at the northern end of Museum Row, and the Taller Boricua galleries at Julia de Burgos Latina Cultural Center, named for the Puerto Rican poet. A mosaic of de Burgos has just been installed on 106th Street, while a mural at Lexington and 104th called "The Spirit of East Harlem" depicts community life, from kids playing basketball to an old man playing guitar.

On Manhattan's Lower East Side, also known as Loisaida, there's the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, still slamming after all these years; and the Parkside Lounge, a bar with a hipster vibe and live salsa.

"Nueva York" includes walking tours of these and other neighborhoods, including sections of Brooklyn and the Bronx.

But Queens is where the city's Latino flavors, sights and sounds really explode.

A generation ago, Astoria, Queens, was known as a Greek neighborhood. Today, it's also home to Brasilianville Grill. Sprinkle farofa, a breadcrumb-like topping, over your rice and beans, and try vinagrete dressing as a condiment. Then choose from the churrasco, an array of slow-roasted meats. The salted beef melts in your mouth; sausages and chicken burst with flavor.

Now put your plate on the scale for the $5.99-a-pound tally. "If you spend $10, you're a pig," Kugel said.

Grab a Guarana Antarctica - a fruity soda - and watch Globo, the Brazilian channel blaring live from a TV, while you chow down.

Looking for a souvenir? Gonzalez says that whenever she travels, "I go to the local hardware stores, supermarkets and pharmacies. I'll buy the cologne or soaps or shampoo." You can do the same at the Rio Bonito Market. Tame your mane with Brazilian hair creams and gels, or for $10, choose from three dozen styles and colors of Havaianas, Rio's famed flip-flops.

Finally, spend a few hours in Jackson Heights, "one of the most culturally diverse neighborhoods in the entire country," said Gonzalez. Take the No. 7 train to the 82nd Street stop and wander along Roosevelt Avenue, known locally as Avenue of the Americas.

You'll find Ecuadorean ceviche - marinated raw fish - sold from a truck, Mexican wrestlers' masks sold from a stall, and Colombian pandebonos - rolls with cheese baked into them - sold hot from a tiny oven wedged inside a money transfer store on 82nd near Ithaca Street.

And whatever shape you're in when you walk into Cali Caliente, a Colombian lingerie store, you'll walk out with more curves. The store is filled with what can only be described as hardware for intimate places.

Would you like to read Dr. Seuss in Spanish? Barco de Papel, a Spanish language children's bookstore, sells "Como el Grinch Robo La Navidad" ("How the Grinch Stole Christmas"), Harry Potter en espanol, and a children's version of "Don Quixote."

Try a Colombian cholado - a combination smoothie, fruit salad and SnoCone - at El Palacio de Los Cholados. Or chill out on a comfy sofa in the loft at Terraza Cafe. Sip an Aguila beer, imported from Colombia, and listen to Mexican rock music, or Todos Tus Muertos, an Argentine punk band. "This place was started by young Latin American bohemians," explained Gonzalez. "It's very eclectic."

Your day is winding down, but you still have time to go dancing. Consult the "Nueva York" book for advice on Latin clubs, from dress codes, to how good your salsa moves should be before you go public. At the classic Copacabana, things heat up early at the Tuesday after-work parties; if it's a Sunday, try Brazilian Night at Black Betty in Brooklyn. For late-night reggaeton and merengue, there's Arka, a Dominican lounge in Washington Heights, or salsa at LQ in Midtown.

Time to leave Terraza Cafe and Jackson Heights, and head to a dance floor of your choice. But perhaps you need a little something to eat along the way. As you walk toward the clattering No. 7 train, look for the taco stand. It's right there, beneath the elevated tracks.